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So, a long time plot arc is coming to a head where the pack has managed to organize all the local packs to undo a wound on the Arizona/Mexico border. Specifically, all the werewolves (about 17 in total including the players) will be sieged by rampaging spirits of Wrath while the Ithaeur work together to perform a rite to reverse the wound. I do plan on having a servant of Asmodai, Queen of Wrath to show up to really give it an Oh Crap feel.

However, that still involves 17 werewolves with a good 5 or 6 of them stuck making Harmony rolls. The ultimate goal, of course, is to make the players feel they did right by gathering up all these Uratha for one goal, while still spotlighting what they are doing.I want the NPCs influence to be felt without detracting from what the players are doing as well as making sure the ritualists are not just throwing dice.

How do I make this an engaging event without bogging it down in rolls or underplaying how tense this situation is?

Ideas that I have had include having quiet time in between rolls where people are patrolling and watching out for rushes or scavenging for useful stuff. I was also considering rules hacking the heroic opportunities system from L5R to allow for set pieces (There's a break in the spirit line and you can rend the portal closed sort of thing).

Please note that while I know that War against the Pure has mass combat rules, I do not own that book. I will consider suggestions from that book, but I would prefer general or narrative ones.

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Heroic Opportunities sounds like a great idea to me - but only if you're going to be using it on a regular basis. – Simon Gill Oct 25 '12 at 15:42
I was thinking of that as well, but generally speaking the pack handles it's own business and that feels like more of a "mass battle" thing. How could I use this in normal play? – Bigeshu Oct 25 '12 at 15:44
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Give your players at least one opportunity to shine each.

By now, you should have a very good idea of the personal stories of each of your characters. This would be an excellent time to pick on an element of those stories and highlight it. It doesn't have to be the central conflict of each character (that might be too melodramatic for you) but it should be something important to them.

For example, take a character who is struggling to channel his anger into being useful for him instead of controlling him. He might have to face a spirit of passive-aggression that is strengthened/healed by being the focus of anger.

Other scenes may encourage characters to use skills or powers they have learned, or reflect struggles that they have faced in the past.

Fit these opportunities into a rough plan of attack

To get these scenes to fit into a battle will take a little finesse. There's two schools of thought - one is that they will win and their actions determine the magnitude of their success (from outright success to pyrrhic victory) and the other is that their actions can lead to success or failure.

Either way, both sides need a battle plan. Imagine how it would go without the PCs there, then consider how the conflicts you've identified from their story can change the tide of battle.

In the example above, the spirit of passive-aggression could well be a key lieutenant on a flank. Without it showing the other rage-spirits around it who to attack (in typical passive-aggressive style), they fall to infighting and that flank is stalled.

Make the conflicts you want to show flexible enough to fit anywhere. Your players sound like determined and motivated individuals who should be able to find ways to muck around with the enemy battle plans. Wherever they go, that's where their story should be.

Going back to the first point, you can determine the level of success from the number of opportunities they have won vs. the number they have lost.

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I'm not 100% happy with what I've written, but I'm out of time for now. I'll make another pass at it later. – Simon Gill Oct 25 '12 at 16:07
+1 for the first point only. Good answer! – Sardathrion Oct 25 '12 at 16:12
I have to agree, I love the first point and ideas. I'll wait for the second pass though. Thanks! – Bigeshu Oct 25 '12 at 16:33

Look for inspiration in history: I would have a look at the siege of the Alamo as a source of inspiration. You should be able to find a few web pages detailing what happened as well as several films. An close second would be the film zulu and Rorke's Drift. Finally, look at siege tropes.

Forget rolls and think roles. Built tension in the face of overwhelming odds. A holding action should be a victory, but you always have to fall back. Build up exhaustion, dwindling supplies, the hopelessness of it all. Have the PCs the last one standing, wounded and spend. Then yet another wave of horrors gets unleashed. And again and again.

But make sure there is plenty of pause. Time for the characters to role play: how do they react to the situation? How to they help others cope? Do they give in to despair? ... Make this sections personal and gut wrenching for the characters. Let the players build that tension themselves. Offer hints as what you wish and it should make for a great session.

BTW, a little trick: the further into the battle, the less light in the room. Invest in a dimmer switch. Music should become more and more dark and foreboding.

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+1 for a tvtropes link. I would love to be able to use the dimmer switch but we play online using map tools. I wonder if adding a fog overlay would achieve the same effect. – Bigeshu Oct 25 '12 at 16:34
Ask the players to lower their lights?..... Yeah, not sure that'll work well. – Sardathrion Oct 25 '12 at 16:43
Darn this lack of darkness control across time and space! – Bigeshu Oct 25 '12 at 16:46

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